How Has Modernity Shifted the Women’s Ordination Debate?

A piece of mine on the subject of the plausibility structures for women’s ordination was published yesterday over on the North American Anglican. Within it, I argue that the strength of the women’s ordination position depends heavily on certain features of the world of modernity and that it makes much less sense without out.

Close consideration of plausibility structures is generally quite lacking in debates surrounding women in pastoral ministry. We principally occupy ourselves with rehearsing familiar arguments on various sides of the questions. While these arguments have evolved in some subtle ways and some have been largely abandoned, many of them are substantially the same as they were a couple of hundred years ago. However, the relative effectiveness of these arguments has changed markedly, in ways that will be difficult to understand apart from attention to the transformation of our underlying plausibility structures. Indeed, even when the arguments are the same, the distribution of weight between them has altered significantly. In particular, arguments from nature against the ordination of women have greatly diminished in their effectiveness, and opponents of women’s ordination have placed much more emphasis upon arguments from divine command and theological symbolism.

The plausibility structures for the ordination of women are sociocultural and institutional, not merely theological. And the theological plausibility of women’s ordination or prominent ministry depends heavily upon explicit and implicit ecclesiologies that are heavily influenced by, or which function in terms of, specific sociocultural factors and contexts. The widespread shift towards women’s ordination in the last century has largely arisen from rapid and far-reaching changes in our institutions and social structures.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Church History, Controversies, Culture, Guest Post, Politics, Sex and Sexuality, Society, The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How Has Modernity Shifted the Women’s Ordination Debate?

  1. Pingback: Как современность изменила дебаты о рукоположении женщин? - Life

  2. The biggest surprise was your twist at the end where you say “Not all of these cultural changes have been bad.” As I read the description of the changes, it mounted up to this huge sense of loss. That said, I realize that I would probably feel very restricted if suddenly dropped into a community from 200 or 300 years ago.

    I have definitely encountered this issue of what constitutes “teaching,” going back to when a good female friend was on staff with a campus ministry. The feeling seemed to be that women can “disciple” other women, evangelize both sexes, maybe even preach as long as it’s a in a missionary capacity, as long as we are not actually pastoring a church. I’ve also seen it called “giving a talk” when a woman is teaching a mixed group.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jennifer! The main cultural changes that came to mind that I consider to have been significant gains concern women’s access to and scope of participation within realms of higher education. While I don’t believe that it is necessary for the radical social changes I discussed in the article to occur in order for such gains to be made, I do think that, under the historical circumstances, it would probably have been unlikely for them to have occurred—or at least occurred to the same extent—otherwise.

  3. It seems that “the new administrative structure of churches” is something to be lamented. Is there a way to turn back the clock? Should we?

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